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How Do You Plan For Christmas Expenses?

December 10, 2010 · 50 comments

in Personal Finance

Christmas comes on December 25th every year, without fail.  Therefore, the expenses that come along with the holiday season really shouldn’t surprise anyone; they should be planned for.

Planning doesn’t have to start in December though.  You can plan all year long for the holidays.   All you have to do is pay attention and plan a little, and you will be all set.

Pay attention?  Yes!  Listen to the people you usually buy for and plan your purchases all year long.  Coupons/advertisements come out year round for just about every store.  If it is July and your best friend talks about how much they just loved the show ‘X Files’, make a note of it, and buy the DVD when it goes on sale.

Another thing I like to do is keep my eye open when I am on vacation for something unique that someone might enjoy.  Do you have a sister that loves unique jewelry?  Then always peruse the shops and displays when you are at a distant locale to pick up something that cannot be found anywhere else, and is also hopefully at an affordable price.

I will admit though, I quite often still have a substantial amount of shopping to do come December.  My kids are older now, and if they want something during the year, they quite often save up for it and buy it themselves.  Therefore, so I can’t really store things up for them like I used to.  I have two methods to cover my December shopping expenses:

  1. I put my change for the entire year into a jar.  In December, I cash all that change in at a Coinstar machine, and get an Amazon Card in return.  This change almost always covers the expenses for buying presents for my out-of-state relatives, and I don’t feel an ounce of pain over it.  (Coinstar pays the full amount your change is worth if it is used for gift cards.  Don’t ever use Coinstar for cash.)
  2. I use my American Express Blue Cash rewards money for presents.  I don’t know if it is by luck or if American Express plans it this way, but my cash reward for the year is issued with the December 28th statement.  This cash is a direct credit on my bill.  Since I pay my bill in full every month and do not have an annual fee, this is just free money for me, and it generally covers the rest of my Christmas spending.  I absolutely love that credit card.

As a side note, I don’t make a purchase if it is not on sale or I don’t have a coupon, but that is just a given.

So how do you plan for Holiday expenses?  Do you cringe when you open your credit card statement and want to cry?  Or, do you have a separate savings fund set aside to cover it?

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos December 10, 2010 at 6:32 am

Kris, good observations on advance planning. It’s amazing how the “silver” change jar can add up over even a few months. Mrs. 101 is diligent at buying ahead of time, but for last minute shopping we mostly stick with Amazon to take advantage of Prime shipping. (By the way, I’m amazed at how you manage to write one long quality post after another, day after day).

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Kris December 10, 2010 at 7:57 am

I am headed to cash in my change today actually. I am so curious how much it will add up to. I think I am going to need a bigger container next year.

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Kris December 12, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Oh, and by the way Andrew, thank you so much for the compliment!! We will see how long I can maintain daily posting though…

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Moneycone December 10, 2010 at 7:36 am

You know that coins-for-amazon-card is an awesome tip! Thanks for sharing!

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Kris December 10, 2010 at 7:58 am

Last year Coinstar had a deal that if you cashed in forty dollars in change you got a bonus 10 dollars from Amazon, but I haven’t seen that deal around for sometime. So, keep your eyes open for that too.

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The Grouch December 10, 2010 at 7:51 am

The best way to shop is to write of list of people you have buy with the dollar amount you are willing to spend, withdraw that amount of cash from the bank, leave the credit cards and go to the stores with a limited amount of money. That way you won’t overspend and run up large credit card bills. You won’t be a Scrooge either because you’ll take care of the people you need to buy for, you’ll just limit the amount you spend.

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Kris December 10, 2010 at 7:58 am

Grouch- And don’t forget to take your coupons along with that cash! 🙂

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Nicole December 10, 2010 at 8:27 am

None of the above. It just comes out of the regular slush fund. It’s our “emergency” extra expense for the month, since there’s always something.

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Nicole December 10, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Hm… I wonder if that means we’re not generous enough at Christmas. Should it take a bigger bite out of the monthly budget than usual? It does, but less so than our fall gremlin expenditures or holiday travel that’s purchased months in advanced. And we do half our charitable giving in the summer…

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:21 am

Nicole, it never matters how much you spend! Just put some thought behind the gift, and you will be all set! I have 3 kids, so December is more expensive than most other months, excluding vacation months.

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Nicole December 11, 2010 at 1:35 pm

The grandparents go so crazy with DS that we don’t actually buy him much at all.

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Molly On Money December 10, 2010 at 8:44 am

We have a set amount that we budget for every year. It’s not much but it challenges us to make most of our gifts (we start early!). This year we are sending out preserves, hand made candies and honey from our bees. Last year we created a cookbook with recipes and pictures from the extended family.
I know, we are very home-spun!

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:22 am

Molly, your gifts sound absolutely wonderful. I would love homemade food as a gift.

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Suzanne December 10, 2010 at 8:51 am

I always purchase gifts throughout the year when they are on huge clearance;especially the kind that are good for those last minute types of gifts. I also use my cashback rewards to purchase gift cards. Paying in cash for everything else keeps me from crying in January when I open my credit card bill.

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:23 am

Suzanne, it sounds like you have managed your Christmas planning/spending quite well. No tears for you!

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Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom December 10, 2010 at 9:19 am

I use my credit card reward points to get gift cards that I use to buy the presents for the most part. I do that for birthdays too.

And since I usually have a lot of guests or make something fancy shmancy for dinner (I’m not a big turkey lover), I also save up my grocery store points for the year to reduce that category. That alone can almost zero out the food bill for December. Other than that, since I only spend a couple of hundred extra bucks, I just absorb it, it’s not a big deal in my budget.

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:24 am

Jacq- I don’t think I get rewards points where I shop. Which chain do you use? I have a ‘Kroger card’, but that gives discounts on what you buy, but I don’t get future discounts! Great deal for you.

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Money Reasons December 10, 2010 at 10:45 am

All my change goes to my kid’s piggy banks. But that is a wonderful idea though!

We cry a bit about the credit card, especially since we always pay it in full. Sometimes it hurts more than other times…

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:25 am

MR – We pay ours off every month too, which is why I love that my rebate for the year comes at the holidays!

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retirebyforty December 10, 2010 at 10:56 am

We don’t have a lot of Christmas shopping to do this year. I think I will get some personal finance books for my brothers and I think that’s about it. Oh yeah, I need to find a nice earmuff for the Mrs. We already blew our budget during the Black Friday weekend so we’ll minimize Christmas gifts this year. razz 😛

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:26 am

RB40- you did get some great deals for Black Friday though! Personal Finance books are always a good choice for a present. I also love to buy humor books for some people.

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Sandy @ yesiamcheap December 10, 2010 at 11:12 am

I warn people in advance that I am not getting anything for them just in case I don’t then I spring something on them if I have enough cash. My priority is paying down my debt so I have narrowed the focus of my gift giving to my little sister, BF, his mom, and my mom. Everyone else is screwed. No siblings, no father and everything is purchased on sale with cash on hand. I can’t be one of those people paying off Christmas gifts in March.

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:27 am

Isn’t it the worst when someone gives you something, and you didn’t plan on buying anything for them? Good idea to give advance warning. If you have debt, it is very smart to limit the gift giving. Especially since many people seem to have everything already anyway.

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DoNotWait December 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I only keep in mind a couple of months before that I will have those expenses coming soon. I also have the same budget almost every year. I mean, I give everyone I do a gift to a certain value in cash not to extend. If it costs less than good for me. If not, well, that it what I has planned.

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:29 am

My budget doesn’t really change for holiday spending either. A lot depends on where we stand that year. However, I don’t go all crazy with the spending in the first place. No laptops for my kids!

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First Gen American December 10, 2010 at 12:02 pm

December’s credit card bill is always a hair raiser. In fact I already cashed in my rewards to help pay for it. The problem with me is that I’m such a tight wad for much of the year that come December I finally cave and buy the things I’ve been holding out on all year. I still haven’t replaced my broken measuring cups yet, so that’s something. Hopefully santa will put one in my stocking.

The other thing that I’m horrible at is buying presents ahead of time. Due to my bad memory, I forget what I have stockpiled and as a result I end up buying way too much for certain people in my life (mainly the ones close to me that I know best). Now I don’t do any shopping until after thanksgiving so it’s fresh in my memory and I think overall I end up spending less.

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:30 am

Oh my gosh, I have forgotten what I have bought in the past too, especially when the kids were little and I did a lot of their Christmas shopping ahead of time.

Please go buy new measuring cups! You can never have enough of them.

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Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog December 10, 2010 at 12:48 pm

What I’ve done in the past has just been to cash-flow out my gifts. I’ve never really experienced a large credit hangover in January. However, I have a feeling that I’m going to need to change my strategy soon as I get more people to buy for.
I try to buy gifts a head of time, but usually that means at the beginning of december.

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:31 am

That is great you have managed to keep the gifts off the credit cards. I have to use mine since that is where the rebate shows up. (But I pay it off every month anyway.)

I am not as ahead of the game this year as I would like to be, that is for sure. I still have quite a bit of shopping to do.

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Kevin@InvestItWisely December 10, 2010 at 9:06 pm

I don’t “plan” for it, but I try not to spend too much. I’m still trying to figure out the best gifts to buy! 😛

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:32 am

My kids don’t even have anything they want, so I am still figuring out a lot too. Does that mean they don’t have many wants, or they already have everything? I hope it is the former!

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Ken @Spruce Up Your Finances December 10, 2010 at 10:43 pm

I do not do the planning but my wife does. She’s good in saving up and making sure we have enough money come December. You can call it our “Christmas Savings bucket.”

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:33 am

Ken, I also do all the Christmas planning at our house. Actually, I do all the planning in general now that I think about it…

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Roshawn @ Watson Inc December 11, 2010 at 4:51 am

To be honest, planning is certainly not this elaborate affair. We just agree on how much we want to spend beforehand. We like to keep it simple, so we both have a good idea what the other thinks is reasonable.

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:34 am

Shawn, I have to plan ahead of time as much as possible. For instance, my daughter loves crafts. That means I have to utilize those weekend coupons for forty percent off wisely, and weeks in advance!

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BeatingTheIndex December 11, 2010 at 7:21 am

I have to admit I go through 0 planning for the gifts. On the other hand, we do our shopping in the last 2 weeks before Christmas and manage to buy gifts for the family within the same budget constraints every year!

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 9:35 am

BTI- if you can do it, then that is great. Just do it all at once and not worry about it. I do try to plan because I know a lot of people that don’t really need anything, so I try to think throughout the year of things they might really enjoy.

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Jacob @ My Personal Finance Journey December 11, 2010 at 11:34 am

What I do to plan for X mas is to place a reminder on my Outlook calendar in July of each year to set up an automatic transfer of ~$50 per month to one of my savings accounts. That way, I can specify this amount exclusively for Xmas spending. It tends to soften the blow of expenses popping up all at once in December!

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Jacob – I love automatic savings. I have been doing that for taxes, vacation, and camps and it makes paying those bills so much easier when they come along!

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Little House December 11, 2010 at 2:39 pm

I’m horrible at planning for Christmas. I only begin to think of gifts once Thanksgiving comes and goes. However, every year we’ve been working on reducing our total cost and so far we’ve managed to reduce it by quite a bit by cutting back on how many gifts we purchase. As for that Coinstar tip, I didn’t know they credit you the entire amount of cash for gift cards. That’s great to know!

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Little House- I used to drive to my credit union to cash in my change as they did it for free. However, I never drive by my credit union anymore, so I just decided to go with the gift card thing instead.

There are other gift cards to choose from besides Amazon. That is just the one I prefer.

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Jessica07 December 11, 2010 at 7:25 pm

I love the idea of putting money in a jar to save for gifts. My father-in-law always suggested that we did this, but I had forgotten all about his advice until I read this. It truly is amazing how quickly change adds up!

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Kris December 11, 2010 at 8:28 pm

You aren’t kidding Jessica- it really does accumulate quickly. I don’t carry change in my purse either, so it all just goes in the jar when I get home. Makes for a nice little amount at the end of the year!

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Carol@inthetrenches December 12, 2010 at 1:32 am

Very nice post. Along with everyone else I love the change in the jar idea! You’ll have to remind us all again in January to get an early start for next year.

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Natalie@ 12 Days of Christmas December 17, 2010 at 2:09 pm

listening to everyone and writing down their gift ideas/hints seems like a lot of work. Yes, it is incredibly thoughtful, but I guess I am becoming a bit of a scrooge…I can’t remember the last time I actually received a thoughtful gift from someone. I used to make collages for my family and friends, paint things for them etc. All kinds of thoughtful gifts until i realized that they ended up in the closet, or forgotten. Now, I just figure gift cards are the way to go. You must be the best gift giver though. Putting money in a jar everyday, that’s great! Maybe ill try to get back to my old ways, it did make me feel good to give more thoughtful gifts than just gift cards to get an xmas present out of the way. Although it is a little late this year…ill add it to my list of resolutions for 2011. Have a great holiday!

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Kris December 18, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Natalie- I can imagine it would be hard to watch something you spent a lot of time on end up in the back of some closet. (I would probably cry!)

Believe me, I am not the best gift-giver ever. I have no idea if people actually like what I give them. For all I know, they run back to the store and exchange my gift as soon as I pull out of the driveway. Regarding the money in the jar, it is just one way to ‘spread the pain’ of paying for Christmas over the entire year. I don’t notice the money is gone, but I sure notice it when it ‘reappears’ in December.

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